Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This month, my book club read the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I enjoyed this book more than I’d expected to, so I thought I would share it with you!

This book is a biography of Louie Zamperini, who is quite a remarkable person. Louie is a talented runner and made headlines as an athlete while he was a young man, including a trip to the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, his career as a “miler” (runner whose event is the mile, apparently) was cut short by the outbreak of what came to be called World War II. Louie wound up volunteering for the service and joined the Army Air Force. The whole book is filled with his recollections and photos, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that Louie survived the war. His story, though, is quite remarkable! 

Louie’s position in the service was that of bombardier, the term for one of the people on a large bomber airplane. As bombardier, he sat in the very front of the plane and was responsible for making decisions about where the bombs should be released. Louie typically flew on a plane called a B-24, which had a crew of about 10 men managing to fly the plane and get the bombs armed and ready to drop at the appropriate time, as well as gunners to fend off the enemy. The book includes harrowing descriptions of moments when the plane was attacked by heavy fire. Louie and his crew hung on even though the plane was destroyed. One fateful day, he and his crew were asked to fly a mission to search for any surviving crew members from another plane. Louie’s crew was assigned to a plane that didn’t appear to be up to the task, but they went anyways. It wasn’t long before Louie’s plane went down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

Louie and two other crew members survived the crash and managed to recover some of the survival equipment that had been aboard the plane. Louie and his buddies floated in the Pacific Ocean for 43 days before they drifted ashore in the Marshall Islands. The soldiers survived their time on an inflatable raft by collecting rainwater in canvas funnels and by catching some birds to use as bait to fish. There were also sharks everywhere, who they managed to beat back with the raft’s oars. While arriving in the Marshall Islands meant the end of floating in the middle of nowhere, it also meant capture by the Japanese, who controlled that area. 

The book then details Louie’s years spend in Japanese custody at several different locations across the Pacific theater. Before I picked up this book, I knew it was the story of a soldier stranded at sea. What was most shocking, though, was the author’s perspective that Louie’s time in Japanese custody was much worse than the long days he spent floating across the Pacific. Can you imagine if your life were one where spending 43 days lost at sea with no supplies wasn’t the low point? I sure can’t. 

I highly recommend this book. It’s a long one, not for the faint of heart, but I was totally impressed with the author’s writing style. World War II is my “favorite” war – meaning the one I find most interesting – but I know very, very little about the battle in the Pacific. Never fear! Laura Hillenbrand does a masterful job giving you plenty, but not too many, details. I learned a ton about the battle in the Pacific, all wound together with a fascinating survival story. The book kept moving and somehow, even though I knew Louie would live to see the end of it, I was still in suspense as I read on toward the end. It was an inspiring story about determination and incredible fortitude. If you’re looking for a hero, look no further than Louie Zamperini. 

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